Session 1: Conceptions of social computing

by richgazan

Welcome to Session 1.  We have a diverse group of folks in this course, from undergrads to PhD students, from at least six different degree programs.  I’m looking forward to reading posts from such a wide range of perspectives, and hopefully the structure of this course will allow you interact and exchange ideas.

In these initial readings, I want to give you an overview of what social computing systems are and how they’re studied.  We’re already near the point where social computing systems are a kind of infrastructure that we take for granted and rarely think about, so it’s worthwhile to consider what’s unique about these environments, why people participate and how we know.  But the most important thing I want you to get out of this session and the course as a whole is to view these sites not as abstract systems or cold objects of study, but as an important element of people’s lives.  I’m not just talking about the stories sensationalized in the media, like online bullying driving people to suicide, but how social computing systems increasingly influence careers, relationships, scientific and professional practice and our sense of ourselves.

Some examples of things you should get from this session’s readings are what authors mean by toading, flâneurs, the difference between social network sites and social computing systems, why Friendster failed, and some of the upsides and downsides of the Web 2.0 world of user-generated and user-vetted content.  You should be able to engage their concepts and arguments critically, find points of overlap and disconnect between them, and using their work as a foundation, articulate your own views.

Any blog worth reading tells people something they don’t already know, so in your responses, strive to choose examples that people are not likely to have encountered before.  Eighteen people posting about how Facebook has changed everything every week would make for a pretty dry course :).

Session 1, Week 1 (Mon Jan 14-Sun Jan 20)

1) Complete the Session 1 readings.  Google/Wikipedia any terms you don’t know.  If some of the readings raise points you find insightful, troubling, questionable, laughable or otherwise interesting, note them down and why you think so.  This is the best way to make sure you articulate critical understanding of the readings in your blog post, which is an essential part of your grade.

2) By 11:59pm Sunday Jan 20, post on your blog your response to the following:

Hopefully you haven’t had a social computing experience as intense as that described in the Dibbell reading, but I’d like you to base your first post on a memorable personal experience you have had on a social computing site.  Begin by proposing a definition of social computing based on the readings and your own experience.  Briefly describe the environment where your experience took place, provide a link if applicable, and explain which specific elements about the environment make it meet your definition of social computing.  I encourage you to think broadly about the types of sites and virtual environments that might meet this definition.  Then tell your story.  Apply concepts from at least three of the five Session 1 readings to your story, and evaluate how they explain, or fail to explain, the actions of yourself and others.  If you are interested in social computing research, you may wish to focus some of your comments on some of the challenges of gathering data to identify patterns of user behavior that your story reveals.  Again, be sure your post is substantive enough to demonstrate your understanding of the relevant concepts from the papers you cite, and review the syllabus for the guidelines for posts.  Conclude by commenting freely on anything else you found interesting or noteworthy about the readings.

Session 1, Week 2 (Mon Jan 21-Sun Jan 27)

By 11:59pm Friday Jan 25:
Read as many other students’ blogs as you like, but comment substantively on at least five.  Respond to comments on your blog, and those of other students. I’ll be jumping in too, though I may not comment on every post every week.

By 11:59 pm Sunday Jan 27:
Conclude your conversations.  Toward the end of the session, skim other students’ blogs one last time and see if you can identify any common characteristics of the most informative and engaging posts, and those which generated the most lively/interesting comment threads. Use these characteristics as a set of guidelines for your future posts.

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